Tsunami Stories

Tsunami aftermath in Japan.

From my Imperial Beach Patch Southwest Surf Column of March 23rd.

On Friday March 11, I woke up around 4AM and found a message in my phone from my father, “There has been an earthquake in Japan and there is a tsunami warning for the coast of California.”

I immediately turned on my computer and found the devastating news about the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan. The National Weather Service forecast a 2.2-foot tsunami hitting Imperial Beach at approximately 8:30 that morning.

Meanwhile, my English cousin Toby Bray and his girlfriend Polly Stock who had just visited Imperial Beach for my mother’s memorial service heard the news in Britain (it was morning there). Toby, terrified that his parents Martin and Zena who were still here with my dad on California Street, would be washed away by the tsunami, phoned my dad’s house sometime after 2:30 and woke everyone up.

Groggy, Martin and Zena along with my Aunt Liliane who was visiting from Paris, watched the CNN coverage of the disaster in Japan in disbelief, then jumped in Martin’s rental car and headed to the Wal-Mart at the end of Palm Avenue.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Zena, who hails from the fishing village of Looe in Cornwall, England. “So it didn’t hurt to take precautions.”

When local surfer Cheyne Merrill, 15, awoke, and heard the news, “I knew the tsunami was going to be small.  The epicenter was so far away that the energy would decrease when it reached IB.  When I saw the tsunami on television I realized how destructive nature can be.”

At the time the tsunami was to hit in San Diego, I was scheduled to fly out of Lindbergh Field en-route to San Francisco to attend the SF Ocean Film Festival’s screening of two WiLDCOAST films, One River and The Baja Wave Document.

I was a concerned that the airports I was to depart and arrive from were at sea level. Luckily, my WiLDCOAST colleague Paloma Aguirre was on the ground at Fisherman’s Wharf and texted me that the tsunami had barely been noticeable in San Francisco Bay.

According to Ben McCue, “By 8:30 KPBS had posted reporters at beaches around the county. By 9:00 the IB Pier was packed with nervous spectators and news cameras were out in force. When the tsunami finally arrived after 10 only the regulars were left to see it come ashore in what looked like a extra big tidal push.”

“Lifeguards reported that tsunami surges hit the beach throughout the day,” said Imperial Beach Lifeguard Matt Wilson. “Including around 3PM when on duty lifeguards noticed that a group of children who were up to their knees in the water suddenly were engulfed by a mini-tsunami.”

More than 1,500 miles south in Saladita, Mexico, “We watched as the tide came in and out all day,” said Cat Slatinsky, of IB’s Siren Surf Adventures.

Down the coast in Zihuatenejo, giant schools of sardines began swarming the shallow waters of the bays and beaches, a phenomenon that local fishermen had never before witnessed.

Sardines schooling in Acapulco, Mexico on March 11.

Across the Pacific In Tokyo, my sister-in-law Louise Young, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin on a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship with her husband Geoffrey Chambers, and children Anthony and Celia, was at home with Anthony.

“Geoffrey was out at the doctor in Shinjuku when the earthquake hit, and has managed to get on a bus, by some miracle,” wrote Louise in an email to her family and friends four hours after the earthquake hit. “Celia is on the school bus, making slow progress on surface roads to the nearby bus station where she will pick up her bike and come home. All subway service and train service is suspended. The images from Northeast Japan are horrifying.”

Explosion at Fukushita. Luckily authorities are assuring the public that nuclear power plants are "safe."

Alarmed by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster, the Young-Chambers family is now safely in Baltimore with my wife’s sister Estelle and her husband Marv. They plan to return to Tokyo at the end of the month.

Essentially with the exceptions of Santa Cruz and Crescent City, much of the West Coast got off lucky. However, since much of the California coast and and the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nuclear Power Plants are in tsunami and earthquake zones, California citizens need to carefully scrutinize energy and industrial projects placed in the coastal zone. And more importantly we need to make sure their backup generators  work and that government regulators actually monitor their safety instead of allow them to get away with safety violations as in the case of Fukushima.

Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo C...

Image via Wikipedia

Unless we can safely store spent nuclear fuel (we can’t) or contain the damage from nuclear power plants during an accident (we can’t), we should not build them.

“The fact that this trio of disasters stuck a coastline much like our own, with a booming surf culture, affluent coastal cities and beach towns, and important ocean resources, makes it so much more real,” said IB surfer and my WiLDCOAST colleague Zach Plopper.

My prayers go out to the victims and their families in Japan and hope that the ongoing Fukushima disaster can be contained quickly and with as little harm to Japan and its people as possible. But it doesn’t look that way.

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